Australian Made

Posted: 15 Oct 2004  |  By: Sasha Grishin

What strikes you as you move around the exhibition 'Place Made', is that none of the artists represented is exclusively a printmaker. They are artists, first and foremost,who work in many different mediums, but who have chosen printmaking through which to make some of their most interesting and innovative work.

Over the past twenty years, printmaking has been one of the most significant and innovative art forms in Australia and Melbourne's Australian Print Workshop (APW) has been central to this development. It was established in 1981 on the initiativeof a group of artists led by Brian Seidel and with funding from the Victorian Ministry of the Arts. It was created as an open access print workshop for artists and also to produce editioned prints professionally for high profile artists who were not primarily printmakers. It has continued this schizophrenic existence for the past couple of decades.

John Wolseley, There is no desert but was once a name - Jabes

In 2002 the National Gallery of Australia acquired the workshop's archive of some 3,500 prints from which about 100 prints by 57 artists have been selected for this exhibition. An impressive 200 page catalogue has been jointly edited by Roger Butler from the National Gallery and Anne Virgo, the Director of APW.

As you enter the exhibition you encounter the work of two great Australian artists - Grahame King and Inge King. Grahame King has been dubbed the "patron saint of Australian printmaking", particularly in lithography. Inge King is one of Australia's most significant sculptors who turned to printmaking very recently, when she was in her eighties. Both of their prints are fresh, vital and engaging - exquisite artworks of the highest order.

The exhibition places an emphasis on other big names in Australian art, who are not primarily printmakers, including Jeffrey Smart, William Robinson, John Brack and Arthur Boyd. In some ways this is a pity as their inclusion is at the expense of fulltime printmakers who are otherwise rarely shown.

Possibly the most adventurous prints in the show are those by John Wolseley and Sally Smart. For Wolseley the print becomes an act of exploration of the landscape itself and the spectator is seductively enveloped by the work, while for Sally Smart the boundaries of traditional printmaking have been pushed so that the medium itself needs to redefine its existence.

In the main, most of the prints on display are content to exist within more traditional interpretations of the medium. There are some exquisite prints by Aida Tomescu, Jennifer Marshall, Yvonne Boag, Noel Counihan, Rick Amor, Andrew Sibley and Alun Leach-Jones.

Perhaps, more than anything else, this exhibition presents something of a potted history of a particular tradition of printmaking in Australia, as reflected in the activities of APW. Established in 1981 as the Victorian Print Workshop, it was during Neil Leveson's years at the helm (1988-92) that APW gained its highest profile. In an interview with the Good Weekend/Age magazine in 1991, Leveson noted that "we are creating a facility here, as exists in Europe and America, where artists can come and work, and learn, and we can train more printers. This is the biggest workshop in Australia now, there is nothing quite like it. Prints are a great way of getting our art known overseas, boosting Australia's whole cultural identity."

From the outset APW was receptive to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, with indigenous printmakers collaborating on its Australian Bicentennial print project. In recent years, the APW has become a major encouragement to indigenous printmakers, through its outreach activities which introduce printmaking to new communities and artists and by fostering a receptive audience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prints both in Australia and abroad.

This exhibition vividly demonstrates the transitions in Australian printmaking from the classicism of the prints of Brack and Boyd, to the distinctive prints by Wolseley and Olsen, through to the revolutionary images in the work of artists like Kitty Kantilla and Lily Karadada. The images of Boyd and Brack could have been made anywhere in the world, but those of Wolseley and Olsen speak distinctively of the Australian experience. The prints of the Aboriginal artists are uniquely of this land.

Image: John Wolseley, There is no desert but was once a name - Jabes, 1997, lithograph on paper. Courtesy of Australian Print Workshop Archive 2, purchased with the assistance of the Gordon Darling Australasian Print Fund 2002. Martin King Printer.

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Issue 38